Farm Catch Up

I haven’t done this in a while, so let’s see what’s going on out in the farming world.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 6.25.36 AMButter Tumbles In Europe:  Wholesale butter prices have plummeted by almost 10% from September in the EU, and have dropped by 20% overall from the high point. The market for butter and butterfat was the only thing that was driving improved farmgate milk prices in the EU. There was a very modest reduction in milk production, but that quickly reversed as milk prices began to improve, and from what I’ve been seeing milk production is on the rise once again.

Butter prices in the US dropped a bit, but are still pretty strong, about 20% or so higher than they were a year ago.

I’ve been hearing the price on powdered skim milk in the EU has dropped precipitously because they can’t get rid of the stuff.

Basically it looks like a return to the old boom/bust cycle. As soon as prices start to get even a tiny bit better, dairy farms begin to ramp up production, glutting the market with product, and pushing the prices back down again.

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 8.58.56 AMSargento Expansion: The company is expanding again locally. It’s adding another 40,000 sq. feet to it’s facility here in Hilbert after a major 70,000 sq. foot expansion just a year ago, and will be adding another 150 jobs here. Sargento is privately owned, employs about 2,000 people, and produces cheese, snacks, sauces and ingredients for the food industry. It had net sales of well over $1 billion last year. Starting wages for most jobs are going to be in the $18/hr range I’ve been told.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 7.58.59 AMDicamba Battle Continues: Monsanto and it’s partner in the dicamba herbicide controversy, BASF, continue to claim that thousands of acres of crops that were damaged by dicamba drift wasn’t their fault. Arkansas alone had more than a thousand complaints of crops damaged or killed by dicamba drifting away fro the sprayed areas into fields that were often hundreds, even thousands of feet away.

This situation has been going on ever since Monsanto and it’s partner in this, BASF, brought their dicamba blend herbicides to market to use with Monsanto’s dicamba resistant soybeans. Dicamba has always had a problem with volatility and drifting, meaning the product goes into vapor form very easily and can drift far beyond the point of application. These new formulations were supposed to cure that problem, but the problem with drift seems to still be a serious issue. Ever since these products came to market there have been reports of tens of thousands of acres of crops and ornamental plantings being killed or damaged by the herbicide.

Both companies have been blaming everything but their products for the problems. Arkansas banned Monsanto’s version of the herbicide and only BASF’s was permitted for use in the state, and the reported damage is so bad some states are thinking of banning the product completely. Monsanto is currently suing Arkansas over the ban. Monsanto is also criticizing scientists who are coming forward to point out problems with the product that date back to the first tests of the dicamba blends, and claim that the company’s testing of the product was seriously flawed and failed to point out the dangers of the herbicide.

Now BASF is claiming that the damage is because farmers have been using illegal forms of dicamba, and not it’s product at all. The company claims that it only sold about half the amount herbicide that would be needed to cover the acreage that was actually sprayed.

The whole thing is a complete mess, with lawsuits either in the works or already heading for the courts, lots of finger pointing, bizarre conspiracy theories, and even one murder attributed to the issue.

Not So Great Pumpkin Controversy: If you’re the FDA, a squash is a squash is a pumpkin. Its all pretty much the same. So that orangey brown gunk you dump out of that can to make your pumpkin pie isn’t really, well, pumpkin. Pumpkin is Cucurbita pepo while what you’re mostly getting in that can is Cucurbita maxima, a different variety of squash. The problem is that real pumpkin doesn’t really work very well for a lot of the things we eat, like pie.

Personally I can’t stand the stuff, the pumpkin pie fillings and all that. I love squash. There’s nothing better than a slow roasted butternut or acorn squash with a bit of, oh, apple baked with it, a little brown sugar, some butter, a touch of salt. It is amazingly good. But pumpkin? No thanks. I’ll pass on that pumpkin pie and head straight for the mincemeat. Although come to think of it mincemeat doesn’t really have meat in it either any more, does it?

And don’t get me started on the abomination that is “pumpkin spice”.

That’s it for now. Well, actually there’s probably more but I’m getting bored and MrsGF is making deep dish apple pie and I need to go peel apples.

As always, comments are welcome or you can email me at old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com

If I got the email address right this time.

 

Farm Catchup

Time to get caught up with what’s been going on in the farming world.

Elderly Corn

China has a problem with corn. As in it has too much of it. It’s been sitting on a large amount of stockpiled corn for years now, and it needs to get rid of it because some of this has been sitting in storage for ages now and if they don’t get rid of it soon it’s going to be unfit for even animal consumption. Agrimoney posted a story indicating China is going to start dumping a lot of it’s aging corn on the market beginning May 5. Some of this stuff has been in storage since 2012. The country has had a problem with this for some time now, and there are rumors flying around that the quality of this stuff is marginal at best. China has been working to make their grain markets less dependent on government support programs and to draw down massive amounts of grain that they have in storage. The result has been a huge drop in the import of grain, especially corn. Chinese corn imports in March were 91% lower than they were a year ago.

GM Corn Saving Lives?

My opinion of genetically modified crops is mixed. I believe the science that proves that the GM crops in use currently are generally safe and that consuming them does not cause health problems. But GM crops have other issues associated with them that are problematic. Like the fact they don’t really improve yield at all, that they lead to the development of herbicide tolerant weeds and that in the long run, GM crops modified to resist weeds and things like the corn borer are little more than stop gap measures that will ultimately fail… The list goes on and on.

But there is one GM crop that could genuinely be of benefit. Aspergillus is a type of fungi or mold that produces aflatoxin, which is not only a carcinogen, but can also cause stunted growth in children and damage immune systems. And it causes liver cancer. It can be found in all kinds of things; peanuts, walnuts, the list goes on and on. Aflatoxin is especially a problem in corn. Corn that is harvested wet, stored improperly, can easily be hit with this stuff, and it can be very nasty.

Here in the US and other first world countries corn and other food crops are tested for the the stuff, but that’s not the case in other places that don’t have the resources, the money, or the expertise to do the testing.

They’ve developed a modified variety of corn that resists the development of the toxin in the corn kernel. Aspergillus can still develop, the the toxin itself will not get into the kernels of the corn.

The early test results are very promising, but they’re going to have to hook up with someone who can afford to foot the bill for large scale testing of the modified crop and go through all of the regulatory paper work and testing.

It wouldn’t just help poorer countries which can’t do the testing. Farmers have  huge amounts of corn rejected because of testing positive for the toxin, so a variety of corn that didn’t develop the toxin would be a significant financial benefit.

Weed Wars

I ran into this item over at agweb.com: When Will the Herbicide Cavalry Arrive? It talks about herbicide resistant weeds and new chemicals to kill them and all that stuff. The usual kind of thing that reads like a PR piece written by the chemical companies. But if you scroll down a bit over halfway through the piece, you’ll find a somewhat different tone when someone, finally, utters the phrase “we’ll never spray our way out of the problem.

And we won’t. Sooner or later the pests will develop resistance to whatever chemical solutions they come up with and the problem will come back just as bad, probably worse, than it was before. They go on to praise two Australian “innovations” that attach to the combine to capture weed seeds before the combine can blow them back out onto the field.

It’s certainly a good idea. Any weed seeds you can capture at the combine aren’t going to germinate the next year to infest your crops. But innovative? Hardly. Similar technologies have been around for decades. Back in the late 1950s our old Massy Harris combine had a device mounted on it that did something similar. It collected the weed seed that would have been blown back out onto the field or gone into the grain tank with the oats and dumped it into a feed sack attached to the back of the combine. At the end of the day we’d have bags of the stuff. It certainly wasn’t 100% effective, but every weed seed it did collect was one that wasn’t going to cause a problem the following year.

Will these devices be helpful? Hell yes, if they ever get them into production and farmers buy into the idea.

I’m not sure why the process went out of favor. I think our combine was the last one I ever saw that was equipped with it. I suppose people figured why bother when all we need to do is just spray. Just blow the weed seed out the back of the combine and let the chemicals deal with it.

School Lunch Controversy

You’d think that one thing everyone would agree on is that school kids should be fed lunches that are safe and healthy, right? But you’d be surprised. Opinions range all over the place out there, from people who think parents should be responsible to feeding their kids and the schools shouldn’t be serving any food at all, under any circumstances, to those who think schools should be feeding kids everything; breakfast, lunch and dinner.

And as for what schools should be serving, well, it’s turned into an utterly ridiculous and totally unnecessary political fight that started the moment the Obama administration announced new rules to insure that what kids were being fed in schools was, if not actually good for them, at least wouldn’t actively harm them. There is absolutely no doubt that we eat too much fat, too much sugar, too much salt, too much processed food and we don’t eat enough vegetables, fruit and whole grains. The new rules were intended to help deal with that, and from the moment they were even mentioned, the fight started because, well, Obama, and as far as certain politicians and special interest groups were concerned, anything coming out of the Obama administration was automatically the spawn of Satan.

As the current administration works to roll back or eliminate everything that it’s predecessor did, it’s been going after the school lunch program as well. The ag secretary announced in a self promotional fluff piece that reads like it was written by the food processing companies and backed with “information” that either isn’t true, is misinterpreted or cherry picked, that they’re going to “make school meals great again” by rolling back the Obama era nutritional guidelines, and allow schools to return, at least partly, to serving kids little more than junk food disguised as a meal. Restrictions on salt, fat, sugar, serving increased amounts of vegetables and whole grain breads and fat free milk are all being rolled back

One of these days I need to do an article about the school food service system. I’ve been involved in it either directly or indirectly for decades and some of the crap going on in that system, well, it’s scary sometimes.

Oat production slump to impact food market

Food companies that rely on supply to be impacted – granola lovers beware.

Source: Oat production slump to impact food market

It’s interesting to see how things change over the years. Once upon a time oats was a major crop here in Wisconsin. Almost every farmer grew it as part of their crop rotation program. It’s fairly easy to grow. Most of the grain went for cattle feed, with the stalks making an excellent bedding for cattle. We used it as a cover crop as well when we planted alfalfa. Alfalfa takes quite a while to get established, so oats were planted with it. The oats grew much faster, provided a cover crop for the new alfalfa plus we’d get a fairly decent crop of oats by the end of the summer. We grew it for both cattle feed and as a seed crop.

Almost no one grows it around here now any more. If they plant small grain at all, it’s always winter wheat here. Seeing a field of oats is so rare now that when we’re driving around the state in late summer and see some it’s almost a shock.

Oats has acquired a bit of a bad reputation around here. It is susceptible to a type of fungus known as rust, which can cause serious yield losses and adversely effect the quality of the grain. During a “normal” summer it wasn’t a big problem. But it seems we don’t really have “normal” hot, dry summers any longer. While our growing season has become significantly longer up here, it has also become more humid on average.

The price of oats doesn’t help much, either. Wheat generally sells for twice as much as oats does, so there isn’t much of an incentive for farmers to keep growing it unless they are under contract to a manufacturer to produce it for food. Right now oats is selling for around $2/bushel while wheat is going for over $4. At one point earlier this fall oats was down to around $1.70.